Maintaining ASEAN as a bright spot, in terms of peace and prosperity

The ASEAN Future Forum 2024 is an essential and much-needed platform for us to take stock as ASEAN prepares to enter a new stage of development based on implementing the ASEAN Community Vision after 2025.
Singapore Ambassador to Vietnam Jaya Ratnam said that the ASEAN Future Forum 2024 is an important and much needed platform. (Photo: VNA)

Pursuing a positive agenda

The ASEAN Future Forum 2024 is an important and much needed platform for us to take stock as ASEAN is preparing to enter a new stage of development on the basis of implementing the ASEAN Community Vision after 2025.

The global outlook remains troubled, with significant geopolitical headwinds and uncertainties. ASEAN finds itself grappling with new external and internal dynamics. Yet, amidst such uncertainties, the task before us is to ensure that ASEAN continues to make progress in delivering better livelihoods for all our people. We must also continue to ensure ASEAN remains central in our region.

This can only be so if ASEAN pursues a positive agenda and delivers on substantive cooperation, so that we can remain credible, relevant, and hence central. In that regard, Singapore is fully supportive Laos’ Chairmanship theme of “Enhancing Connectivity and Resilience” which is focused on taking forward our integration efforts, including in emerging areas, and strengthening ASEAN’s ability to deal with external challenges.

Amidst such difficult circumstances, Singapore and Vietnam are working even closer together to maintain ASEAN’s centrality and relevance, given our shared stake in the stability and prosperity of the region. Both Singapore and Vietnam are firm believers that ASEAN forms the cornerstone of our open, inclusive, and rules-based regional architecture.

ASEAN’s success is critical to our success. Let me highlight two key areas where Singapore and Vietnam are stepping up to show the way forward in ASEAN. We broke new ground when we concluded the Green-Digital Economic Partnership in February 2023 to facilitate cooperation in new growth areas in the green and digital economy.

First is the digital economy. ASEAN made good progress in advancing our digital integration under Indonesia’s chairmanship last year, where we launched negotiations on the ASEAN Digital Economy Framework. A high-quality DEFA could double the potential value of ASEAN’s digital economy to US$2 trillion by 2030. We aim to have the DEFA ready by its target date of 2025 under Malaysia’s ASEAN Chairmanship.

Progress has already been made. The ASEAN Digital Ministers meeting in Singapore also recently endorsed key initiatives in areas ranging from AI governance to data flows. Singapore has digital payment links with Thailand and Malaysia. Last year, we launched a cross-border QR payment linkage with Indonesia. We are seeking to pursue similar arrangements through ASEAN. These efforts are key to unlocking ASEAN’s digital economy and creating new opportunities for our businesses and peoples. This will bring us closer to our vision for ASEAN to be a leading digital community.

Singapore and Vietnam are among the top three start-up ecosystems in Southeast Asia. With our common goal of driving economic growth through technology and innovation, there is scope for Singapore and Vietnam to tap into each other’s innovation eco-systems for partnerships, funding, and talent and power ASEAN forward. To better facilitate this, we signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on the Innovation Talent Exchange (ITX) Programme in 2023, which we aim to be implemented in the coming year. Much more remains to be done.

We can work together to bring this down and improve ASEAN’s economic competitiveness. One way would be to facilitate data flows across borders and ensure that our digital systems are interoperable and linked up with digital payment systems.

Vietnam and the future of ASEAN

The key pathway for sustainable growth

Second, sustainability and the green economy. Our region is home to some of the world’s fastest-growing economies. At the same time, we have committed ourselves to sustainable growth to achieve our ambitious emissions targets. Singapore and Vietnam share a common vision of achieving net zero by 2050. The road ahead for a just and orderly transition to net zero is not easy, and ASEAN needs to work together to support each other in this journey.

Our strong regional growth will drive energy demand and thus accelerating our energy transition will be the key pathway to achieving such sustainable growth. We need to take decisive action, as according to a study by the Nanyang Technological University and the University of Glasgow, ASEAN is at risk of losing over 35% of its GDP by 2050 as a result of climate change if no remedial measures are taken.

The establishment of an ASEAN Power Grid will be a key part of such efforts. We need to make cross-border, regional trade of renewal energy a reality. ASEAN is doing much more than just studying the possibility of cross-border electricity trading. Various ASEAN member states have taken steps in this direction. The Lao PDR-Thailand-Malaysia-Singapore Power Integration Project (LTMS-PIP) is moving to phase two of its development. A feasibility study on a similar project involving Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines (BIMP-PIP) has been conducted.

One major pillar of the emerging ASEAN Power Grid is the Vietnam-Singapore Energy Project, involving the import of 1.4 gigawatts of low-carbon energy from Vietnam to Singapore via a new subsea cable. The key to realizing the ASEAN Power Grid is developing the necessary infrastructure as well as standards and norms for the cross-border export of energy. Beyond the ASEAN Power Grid, we should collaborate in other areas, such as carbon trading and capacity building, to quicken our green transition and forge a more sustainable and resilient future.

We have a full but exciting agenda ahead of us for ASEAN. ASEAN in the global context is a bright spot, in terms of peace and prosperity. With 660 million people, a young workforce, urbanization, and healthy GDP growth, ASEAN is already the fifth-largest economy in the world and could be the fourth-largest by 2030.

ASEAN provides a platform for economic cooperation and integration. But we must work harder to preserve this. We need to enhance our capabilities, and our competitiveness and our cooperation, so that whatever the environment, we can do better for our peoples and deliver on our vision for a more integrated, prosperous, and sustainable future for our peoples.

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